Chapter 14 The carnival is over
Nancy was sitting in her makeshift office in the San Antonio field office. She was on edge already then the phone-call she had been waiting for came and time slowed. She picked it up and didn’t say anything.
“Hello? Is this Jaeger?” a thick Spanish accent said, confused by the silence.
“Yes, sorry, this is Nancy Jaeger.”
“I’m Legate Dargento. We have analyzed the data you’ve sent to us and forwarded that data to Interpol and they have a match. We’re faxing you the information as we speak. I hope this helps you in your investigation.”
“Yes, I’m sure it will.” Nancy was elated but felt a hint of sadness creeping in from an unknown place, a cold shiver. “Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome.”
She hung up the phone and sat there for a minute with her elbows on the desk.
“What is it? Did the tests come back? Was that Interpol?”
“They’re faxing it over now.”
Porter thought the kid looked hungry and that he might loosen up if he put some food in him, so he took him across the street to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, and ordered some Texas toast and lemonade.
“Do you remember me?” Johnny nodded. “I heard you scared your mother pretty good - that stunt you pulled.”
The kid shrunk back into his seat. His lip quivered
“That woman is not my mother,” he said in a harsh whisper.
Porter’s heart galloped and hurdled his stomach. His blood started rushing in from all over.
The kid looked at him and it was obvious Johnny was scared, really scared this time. He took the glasses off, threw them across the table and rubbed his eyes.
“Who are you?” The words shook in Porter’s throat.
The waitress came with their food. They sat across from each other, waiting for her to put it down and go back to the counter. Johnny smiled at her and she walked away.
“My name is Cisco Nulidad and I’m wanted by Interpol.”
Nancy speed-walked down the hall to the fax machine. She could feel others’ eyes on her, but this was her moment; she couldn’t let the excitement get to her. She could hear the fax machine going.
It was spitting out page after page after page, some in English some in Spanish. There was so much of it, she could hardly believe it. She felt like a kid on Christmas Day.
When the fax machine stopped, she scooped up the hot pieces of paper and bundled them into a folder, before taking them back to her office.
Con opened the door, coffee cup in hand. It was hot, so he was just wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tie tossed over his shoulder.
“What is it? Who is he?” he asked without stopping for air between the questions.
She speed-read through first page, her mind reeling. She passed it to Con and started on the next as he tried to process the scope of it.
It was a black and white sheet: a fingerprint card with a picture of a dark-haired man on it.
“Cisco Nulidad. It says he’s French, wanted by Interpol, twenty three years old! Christ!”
She burned through the next page and passed it over to him. “Wanted for impersonating minors to gain access to children’s shelters. Known Aliases: Frederic Beard, Benjamin Dianason, Jimmy Peter Manfred, Hurny Wright.” He flipped the page over in disbelief. “The list just goes on and on. These are all missing kids he’s impersonated. This is all over Europe. Luxembourg, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Milan, Glasgow, Bosnia, Paris, Bordeaux. This is crazy.”
She finished another page and passed it to him. “Known nationalities: Australian, Uruguayan, Canadian, Mexican. A history of lying about abduction and sexual abuse. Suicidal tendencies. Designated an extreme flight risk.” He looked at Nancy and back at the page in sheer disbelief. “He’s a fake,” he said.
Porter steadied himself, his food growing cold in front of him.
“From the start?” Nulidad said.
“From the start.”
Cisco cleared his throat.
“Well, I made a phone call and I pretended to be a couple who found a missing boy. I said he was scared and lost and they picked me up and I pretended to be very scared. I put into their minds they have a child. I didn’t even need to tell them I was abused; they said that.”
He took a sip of his lemonade and looked pleased with himself. There was something fun about this for him, like a magician revealing his secrets to the world, the world of one. “They took me to the shelter and they tried to find out who I was, but they couldn’t. I didn’t let them print me or take photos, but they threatened to. I just wanted to stay in the shelter. So I said to them, leave me alone in the office at night. Because I told them I was an American and, because of the time zone difference, I needed to call at night.”
He breathed in. “So I searched. I knew, on the phone in that office, no one could hear me. I could convince anyone on the phone. I called police stations in the U.S. I tell them I am police and we have a missing American child. I tried to find a child that matched my description. After a while, I found a woman in San Antonio who told me about a missing child, Johnny Bartlett.” He swallowed and went on. “She sent me a fax with his picture and I looked at it and I saw the date. Been missing for a few years. It was an old picture. I knew there would be a change and I told them they had a match. I called Peggy on the phone pretending to be, err, police and I told her we found Johnny. “He paused and a little something wormed into his smile, regret maybe. “I washed her brain.” He went on afresh. “The next day, I proved to the people at the home who I was and they called the embassy and the FBI.
“I didn’t stop because I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t stop.” He started to eat, taking bites of the toast, chewing while he continued. “But fuck, when the embassy, they sent color pictures of Johnny, I saw he had blue eyes and blonde hair. Fuck me, I burned them. I wished I could burn every word I said up to that point. So I had no choice, I dyed my hair. I got the dark glasses and covered my face and I got a girl in the home to do the tattoos. I thought, if I could get the hair and tattoos and she couldn’t see my face, she wouldn’t know I wasn’t her brother. I’d have a chance,” he said taking a slurp from his lemonade. “I thought about running away. I thought about it, but it was too late. Peggy was on a plane and coming to get me. I was trapped. She showed up and I hid. I didn’t think she’d accept me. I thought, as soon as she saw me, she would say ‘Who the fuck is that? That’s not my brother!’ I knew I was about to lose everything. I had no choice. I knew I couldn’t wait no more. It was too late to run. I couldn’t disappear. So I opened the door and I went down to meet her and she didn’t wait two seconds. She jumped on me. She started kissing and cuddling me and telling me she recognized me. She accepted me right away. To her, I was her brother, no question.
“She told me everything would be fine. Only God knows why she would do that. Then she started showing me pictures, dozens of pictures. ’You remember this is when you were playing with Scotty? ’Jason looks older,’ just over and over, drilling it into my head.”
He swallowed “I wasn’t pretending to have another identity; I stole one.” Porter stayed still like he was listening to a radio play. Cisco sighed and went on as if it was a play or a game. “All I had to do was get on a train and go anywhere, but something told me to stay. I can’t describe...I wanted to feel loved, because I never had that before. My mother had me very young and didn’t want me, so I thought I could steal one who did.”
He looked off out of the window, at the busy intersection and all that nothing. “I think, America, I think, big city, skyscraper, you know? But when I get here, it’s all this nothing, all this country, so much space.”
He was talking louder and more confidently than he had been since he’d got here and he smiled and shook his head. “And then I met you. I already leak to the media about me. Because I thought, if the media, the whole world, see me and hear my story, it would make Johnny more real, even to me.” He looked down at the table. “I wanted people to feel sympathy, to love me.
“How many French adults live the American dream?” He laughed a little as he said it.
“How did you get away with it? The embassy doesn’t just throw out U.S passports to anyone.” Porter’s voice came out of nowhere. He’d just been sitting there, listening, dumbstruck.
Nullidad didn’t seem to notice and he looked off past him.
“I had help.” He clenched his jaw and said, “I thought I’d fooled them, but I fool myself. I see now they were the fakes from the start”.
“What do you mean? Who?”
He looked into Porter’s eyes.
“She helped me. I see now, she coached me. The embassy, they gave me a test. They showed me pictures from Johnny’s family and they tested me to see if I remember.” He licked his lips and leaned forward with his hands on the table. “Peggy, she told me over and over, showing me pictures. ’Do you remember this? Do you remember this person? You remember this. You remember that? That’s your uncle this, your aunt this, your cousin, your mother, your grandmother. She did it over and over and she made me remember; she coached me and I passed.”
“Who? Your sis- Peggy?”
“Yes.” He paused. “I didn’t think, at the time, that she knew they would test me. She helped me to cheat.”
Nullidad swallowed and said, “I thought she just really wanted me to be her brother. She made me her brother. She didn’t believe it for a second. She knew I wasn’t her brother, but she wanted me to be him, no matter what.” He looked down and breathed in. “I was convinced it was luck. I realize now, there was no way they couldn’t see through me. Who wouldn’t know their own child? They pretended.”
He swallowed and kept rambling. “I thought I was the fake, the imposter. I’m just a stupid person who wanted to be someone else. They were the real fakes. They knew Johnny was never coming back and they used me to hide that. I was the fool all along.”
He poked at his food and said, “My lie was small. I lied about being someone I was not. Their lie is everywhere; it touches everything; it’s all around. It encircles me and I can’t escape.”
Porter banged his fist on the table, a sudden surge of nervous rage shooting through him.
“What about Johnny?” Cisco looked up, his eyes narrow and frightened. “I’m sick of listening to you feel sorry for yourself: what happened to Johnny?”
“They killed him.”
Porter shrunk back in his seat, all the hairs on his arms electrified, standing on their ends. He got a cold feeling in his stomach, as if he had known it all along.
Nullidad looked down at his feet. “Some of them knew about it, some of them kept quiet about it, and some of them did it.”
Nullidad licked his lips and filled the growing silence. “For a long time, I worried that the real Johnny would come back. But one night, Angela, she drank. She was drunk and she told me. I heard her say, ‘Johnny is dead. It was an accident, but Johnny is dead.’ I knew it was true and I never worried about him coming back after that.”
Porter’s eyes glassed over and his face was flat and expressionless.
“Why should I believe any of this? How can I believe you?”
Nullidad paused and rolled his head back and forth, looking for an answer, and when it didn’t come, he said, “You can’t.”
Part 4 The Part You Throw Away